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In 2024, voters in 54 countries — home to nearly half of the global population — will go to the polls. The elections will take place in the context of global democratic backsliding as more countries slouch toward autocracy. The quality of elections has worsened in 30 countries over the past decade — a period marked by increasing attacks on freedom of expression and civic engagement and diminishing levels of citizen trust in democratic institutions.
While there are signs that the world may be turning a corner on this “democratic recession,” it is too early to tell. What is certain is the need for continued investment into strengthening democracy globally to create a more just and inclusive world. On the 16th International Day of Democracy, the Carter Center remains deeply committed to playing its part in this mission and this year’s theme – Empowering the Next Generation. Directly supporting young people on the front lines of defending and advancing democracy is at the heart of much of the work we do globally. Earlier this year, we highlighted the remarkable role resistance committees and other youth-led networks in Sudan such as the Youth Citizen Observer Network are playing in grassroots relief efforts. These young leaders are also actively conveying their priorities for peace negotiations even though they were previously denied a seat at the table in Sudan’s now derailed transition. Lessons from Sudan have global resonance: Democracies cannot flourish if we do not ensure that young people have a voice at all levels of decision-making.
More on the Forum Network: Global Public Opinion on Democracy: While most still embrace democratic ideals, there’s discontent with how political systems are functioning by Richard Wike, Director, Global Attitudes Research, Pew Research Center
The health of democracy has declined substantially in nations around the world in recent years, with substantial support for non-democratic approaches to governing and even military rule. But our research indicates that instead of turning away from it, many want more democracy and a stronger voice in political life.
As The Carter Center continues to lead initiatives on election observation and international standards for democracy, we have evolved to engage the shifting global landscape as reflected by our work to tackle digital threats to democracy and address problems at home in the United States.
Founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter, the Carter Center has helped to improve the quality of life for people in more than 80 countries. After observing more than 115 elections in 40 countries to date, the Center has become a trusted authority on democratic processes.
In 2023 we released a new edition of the Election Obligations and Standards (EOS) manual ahead of the second global Summit for Democracy in Zambia, with important updates on issues such as violence against women in politics and mis/disinformation. The Summit for Democracy meetings were an important opportunity to think collectively about how we can make election standards rooted in human rights principles a reality for more people around the world. Resources like the EOS manual are more important than ever for actors at the forefront of defending democracy.
More women than ever before hold public office globally, yet this upswing has been met by an alarming increase in violent incidents
Support to local organisations and communities to lead democratic development in their countries is more important than ever for sustainable development and peace. In Liberia, where The Carter Center has worked to foster peace and democracy since 1991, we support the Liberia Election Observation Network (LEON). This umbrella organisation fills an important void by convening a broad range of civil society voices and deploying well-trained Liberian election observers — including many young Liberians — across the country. LEON will play a critical, citizen-led role in monitoring Liberia’s elections in October.
We also share growing international concern about violence against women in politics and elections. More women than ever before hold public office globally, yet this upswing has been met by an alarming increase in violent incidents targeting women voters, party supporters, candidates, election officials, and activists. This threat is particularly salient for young women entering politics who may be discouraged from pursuing long-term political careers if their safety is not ensured. In elections where we observe low rates of women’s participation, we often work with local partners to address specific threats women encounter. For example, the Zambia Participatory Rights Initiative included a course on digital safety after we assessed that violence against women was concentrated online around the 2021 elections. We are developing similar tools for women candidates and elected representatives in other countries.
Rapidly changing social media environments are among the most concerning threats to democracy
With full recognition from our decades of expertise developed abroad, we now appreciate the need to address problems in the United States. In hopes of building public confidence, The Carter Center is creating networks of nonpartisan observers who will assess whether the electoral process is executed according to the law and bring attention to areas that need improvement before the 2024 elections. Our work during the 2022 midterms scrutinized processes such as Georgia’s risk-limiting audit of the 2022 secretary of state race and a joint report with Detroit Disability Power that found that 84% of polling places in Southeast Michigan appeared out of compliance with accessibility requirements for persons with disabilities.
Rapidly changing social media environments are among the most concerning threats to democracy. The Carter Center’s Digital Threats to Democracy Initiative develops tools to monitor and counter mis/disinformation, hate speech, harassment, coordinated inauthentic behaviour, and dark advertising online. We recently supported digital threats monitoring activities in Brazil, South Africa, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Bolivia, Guyana, Liberia, and Côte d’Ivoire. While this work remains grounded in international principles for human rights and democracy, our approach constantly adapts to the fluid reality of digital threats. For example, there are fresh concerns over generative AI and reduced trust and safety protections on social media. We are working with a range of actors, from big tech to local civil society, to roll out solutions that require a whole-of-society approach. How we adapt to the threats and opportunities social media poses to democracy will be integral to the legacy we leave behind for the next generation.
The announcement in February that President Carter was entering hospice care has prompted reflections on that legacy and how The Carter Center has evolved while remaining true to our founders’ original vision and timeless principles. We are honoured to continue carrying out President and Mrs. Carter’s vision for a better world grounded in democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.
To learn more, read the OECD report: Building Trust and Reinforcing Democracy
Democracies are at a critical juncture, under growing internal and external pressures. This publication sheds light on the important public governance challenges countries face today in preserving and strengthening their democracies, including fighting mis- and disinformation; improving government openness, citizen participation and inclusiveness; and embracing global responsibilities and building resilience to foreign influence. It also looks at two cross-cutting themes that will be crucial for robust, effective democracies: transforming public governance for digital democracy and gearing up government to deliver on climate and other environmental challenges. These areas lay out the foundations of the new OECD Reinforcing Democracy Initiative, which has also involved the development of action plans to support governments in responding to these challenges.